August 2011

Canada's Spirit Bears

Canada gets everything wrong. Their national pastime is played on ice, they pronounce "about" wrong, and some of them even speak French. Oh, and their black bears are white. What gives, northern neighbors?

The bears are a variety of your traditional North American black bear, only with recessive genes expressing lighter fur. It's not polar bear white, exactly, but more of a light tawny color. Photographer Paul Nicklen caught a glimpse of these rare pale bears, known as Kermode bears, in a lush forest in British Columbia. 

Not only are the Kermode bears pretty, they're also fancy eaters. While we imagine most bears hunting fish and then devouring them whole, these white bears prefer to catch female fish and eat only their eggs. When there are enough fish to go around, the bears strongly prefer caviar to filet. However, they will eat the entire fish when food is scarcer. Kermode bears are typically better fishers than black bears, as their white color is less easily detectable by fish against the daylight. Pro tip: if your livelihood is going to depend on catching fish, it's better to look like a ghost than a looming shadow. Like their black cousins, Kermode bears also climb trees to munch on berries when fish are scarce. They can also live off of roots and mussels when need be.